There is much hype around the visions set by Prime Minster Narendra Modi at the time of his undertaking of the coveted office in 2012. Of them all, the one entitled ‘Housing for All by 2022’ seems – as it seemed at the time of its announcement – a tremendous programme, both in size and scope. To provide housing to 1.28 billion people is a massive endeavour.
But what is truly gobsmacking is the idea that the people who are below poverty level, live on the streets and in distant remote areas, and even outside the ambit of a society as we understand it, can obtain houses for themselves. Since that is almost inconceivable in real terms, in every possible way imaginable, one would naturally assume that the Government might be having a seriously novel and unprecedentedly ground-breaking plan up its sleeve. Two years later, it turns out it does not.
The Government heavily relied on the private sector to shoulder the vision and deliver on it. Till date, the response from the private sector has been almost negligible. And no one can blame them for not responding.
The patchy model relies on builders taking up slum clusters for redevelopment, and as a favour for rehabilitating slum dwellers the builder would be able to use the remaining land for its commercial business. Reports suggest that this model is based on Mumbai’s Slum Rehabilitation Authority model which itself failed to succeed. What happened was that developers chose to only adopt slums located on prime lands and capitalised on the majority of the free land. Rest of the pockets were ignored and only 1 lakh slum dwellers were housed as against the original target of 8 lakhs.
Another news report points out that the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana based its 20 million housing requirement on the estimated shortage laid out in the 12th Five-Year plan. 90 percent of the shortage is in the Economically Weaker Sections and Low Income Group categories. Economist Amitabh Kundu shared a thought which occurred to many in the profession and even to those of us who are mildly sensible. While he gave concrete numbers, I will just convey the essence of his thought here – whatever is the cost of constructing EWS or LIG houses in metros, it cannot be so low that a household who earns upto Rs 3300 per month or Rs 5000 per month (EWS and LIG respectively) can pay the EMI and then sustain all other household costs. And I am not even mentioning the lowest rung of our society who by all means and purposes is mere ghosts with no income or identity.
The experts of the sector have also sighted other, more economically sound, reasons for not finding enough confidence in this vision. But to me, these two reasons are the most basic, the most fundamental issues which at once renders the entire idea of ‘Housing For All’ moot. And if the Government really wants to achieve vision, it will really have to get its act together like it has never done before.